How to Encourage Innovation in a Team, by Janice Francisco

I’ve been working with a team over the past eighteen months that had volunteered to address challenges management in the client organization saw on the horizon. These challenges had resulted from recent and ongoing changes within the organization. The team was to work through the challenges and recommend solutions.

And they did! But better, different, answers were needed. And by thinking differently and working together differently, we knew the team could rise to the challenge.

In relating this case to you, I’ll show you why I needed to tell the team that even after presenting their original recommendations, they had to go back to the drawing board, slow down, and do the right thinking that comes with completing all steps of the process. I was reminded of this quote from Brené Brown.

It takes courage to get back in the arena. This week I’d like to tell you about this team—three brave ladies who went back into the arena, allowing me to coach them to a better outcome. Indeed, this team became champions of using the process to do the right thinking needed to drive value in innovation.

At the beginning of the project, both management and the team members did the FourSight Assessment to determine their thinking preferences and how they best worked together to solve problems. FourSight identifies four thinking preferences for engaging in innovation:

  • Clarifier: Needs access to facts, information, proof
  • Ideator: Wants to give ideas and see the big picture
  • Developer: Needs time to evaluate and optimize
  • Implementer: Seeks ways to take action.

The team then learned the FourSight Thinking System™, which includes a four-step process that, when applied, drives innovation. The process steps are to Clarify, Ideate, Develop and Implement and each of the steps correlates to the above thinking preferences. As an example, people with a high preference to Clarify will enjoy engaging in the Clarify step the most. People with a low preference to Clarify won’t get jazzed by engaging in the Clarify step, but with the guidance and support provided by the FourSight system, they can contribute positively. In learning about their thinking preferences and how to use the FourSight Thinking System, people learn the tools and process skills to flexibly and effectively engage in innovation, and how to manage themselves and others more effectively through the process, regardless of their thinking preferences.

By taking the FourSight Assessment, the team members discovered that they all shared the same thinking preference: Implementer. Each one of them preferred to grab the first idea and run with it.

Once the team had agreed to work through the challenges, they were anxious to get started. They self- organized, worked together to create a fabulous briefing note for the manager and me outlining how they perceived the challenges and how they should be resolved.  They even included a timeline for completion. Once they shared it with me, I said, “Thanks for all the great work! Tell me: how did you use the FourSight Thinking System™ to come to these conclusions?”

As Implementers with a big desire to “get it done,” the team had run hard at the challenge, overlooking some important details about how they were to solve it, skipping some steps in the process, and jumping to immediate and obvious solutions.

So, while they had come up with recommendations, there were two issues:

  1. The thinking wasn’t different. The goal was to teach the client organization how to step outside of what they normally did; what they had been doing wasn’t helping them. The organization’s goal wasn’t to just solve this one challenge; it was to learn how to approach all challenges differently and get better answers.
  2. To get better answers, teams needed to work together differently. While the team members knew they all shared the Implementer thinking preference, the FourSight process would help them go through each of the thinking steps needed to properly address the challenge. In other words, just because the team members had Implementer thinking preferences and the team didn’t include any Ideators, Clarifiers or Developers, team members could still use the process to think like ones and ensure the challenge was properly and fully addressed. Being able to work together differently, no matter what the make-up of the team, meant that the organization was building “bench strength”—employees who had the awareness and process knowledge to be innovative in how they approached future challenges.

It’s one thing to learn something in a classroom, it’s another to develop the habits to use it proficiently. The objective here was to extend the learning in the classroom with coaching to support application to real work problems.

So we recalibrated and I asked the team what they needed to feel comfortable in applying what they had learned about the FourSight process. “The process that BridgePoint introduced to us was the right process for the challenge,” reflected one of the team members. “It was the first time anyone in the team had to use this process and there was not an appreciation of all the steps involved.”

They wanted clarity on how to use it to solve this particular challenge. And they needed a model of how it would work.  If they were going to let go of the habits that had served them so well in the past and do things differently, they wanted some assurance they could get a good result with this new FourSight process.

First I provided them with a detailed set of process steps, recommending tools to use for this particular kind of problem. FourSight provides a framework for roles and responsibilities to resolving a challenge. The roles are:

  1. The client who owns the problem and holds decision-making authority at the end of each process step
  2. The facilitator(s)
  3. Resource groups.

In this situation, this team were to act as facilitators and a resource group for the manager, and they would engage peers and other members of the management team as additional resource group members as the situation needed it. We then reviewed how to manage the process using both divergent and convergent thinking, where to engage their peers, and where to engage their manager and her management team to get guidance and decisions.

The team could now move forward with the awareness of their tendency to take action and ensure they were clear on what they needed to focus on. They started at the beginning of the process—to clarify—and asked themselves, “What’s the real problem?” As one team member said, “Our first instinct was to implement right away. We learned that we needed to clarify at the beginning to make sure we are working on the right problem.”

Was it hard? You bet! “It was hard because it was a new way of thinking, also because I was an Implementer,” reflected a team member. “I had to put on the brakes. It was hard to spend two hours clarifying something. I had to understand the importance of going through the process to get to a significant result.”

I was available to the team as a coach, something that the team members say worked really well to help them learn the process. “Janice was a good coach; she was authentic, truly engaged and really cared,” said one member. The team ran into some frustrations, and as a coach I helped to validate their feelings, letting them know that their feelings and behaviours were normal. As another team member said, “It’s normal to experience frustration. Be patient and be open. It’s a lot of learning and it’s uncomfortable.” I also worked with the team to deal with roadblocks. “It helped to have her encouragement. Every time we met, she got us excited again and we were ready to go afterward.”

As a team of Implementers, the process reinforced their new awareness of their natural problem-solving approach and helped them to address challenges more completely. By getting back in the arena, the team learned to seek information and clarification, and to develop ideas further rather than make assumptions and leap to action. Simply put, they did better thinking.

The process also taught the team the value of brainstorming. One of the members found it a bit of a “mind change” to brainstorm and seek more ideas; to an Implementer more than one good idea can be superfluous!

The team investigated and found two related problems. Based on the data they collected, the team reworked and reframed the challenges. What they came up with was a more elegant and efficient way to tackle the problem. The manager—who in the context of the FourSight process was the client—loved the reframe and agreed.

This story has no end, because innovation is an ongoing journey. However, the plot thickened when the manager saw the team’s work as they offered a first round of solutions in the Develop process step. “Wow, we’re further along than we thought we’d get! Let’s just move to implement!” suggested the client. It was a testimony to how this team of Implementers had learned to think differently and work together differently when the team recommended to their client, “You need to respect the process! Let’s finish the Develop step and get everyone else on the team to ‘POINt’ it and see what happens.”

Within the FourSight process, the POINt evaluation is a method for identifying “pluses” and concerns about suggested solutions, and for coming up with new ideas to address these concerns. You get more traction on a solution when everyone who has to live with it has an opportunity to build on and improve suggested solutions. Staff were invited in the Ideate process step to contribute ideas and were interested in seeing how their ideas were transformed into solutions. By resisting the urge to jump to implementation, respecting the process and doing the POINt evaluation, they got an improved solution. And, spending bit more time and effort made the solutions easier to implement as well. Afterward, one team member reflected that not respecting the process was like, “…putting a cake into the oven and taking it out after two minutes.”

The title of this article is “Two Essential Ingredients for Effective Teams.” So what can our team—now advocates for the FourSight process—teach us about these two ingredients?

  1. Knowledge of how your thinking style impacts your role on a team
  2. A thinking and creative problem solving process that gets better answers to tough challenges.

In our story, these two essential ingredients—which basically can be boiled down to a) how do I think? and b) how can we think better together?—got a team of Implementers who were somewhat skeptical about the process and concerned about the impact of changes in the organization—to be engaged and get great ideas on how to tackle the challenge. By working the process, working with each other, and working with management, much better options and solutions emerged for this organization. In addition, people were excited; they were interested in getting the solution implemented and were good with living with the changes. The team’s level of engagement and dedication to the process and the project, along with some coaching from myself when the going got tough, helped them to help their client recommit to the process and get better solutions as a result.

Moving forward, team members feel that the dual knowledge of their thinking preferences and the FourSight process are transferable tools and skills that they can keep in their back pockets for daily use and for future projects. One team member reflected that the FourSight process works well for change and innovation because, “You engage all team members to get onboard with the same ideas and solutions.”

In a culture of innovation, innovation is a daily occurrence that calls upon every employee to be engaged. Innovation calls for every person in an organization to be thinking and acting differently and to drive value. Teams don’t have time to waste being unproductive and ineffective. Members need to understand how to think and work together and do it quickly so that they can get on with the job at hand. The FourSight Assessment and the FourSight Thinking System™ ensure that the two essential ingredients to effective teams—a recognition of how each team member thinks and a process to get them to think better together—are in place no matter who is on the team and no matter what the challenge might be.

Discover your thinking style through the the FourSight Thinking Profile and how you contribute to a team AND learn the FourSight Thinking System™—a thinking and creative problem solving process that gets better answers to tough challenges with our 1-day Breakthrough Thinking workshop.

Learn how you personally engage in the creative problem solving process with our two-hour workshop Creativity Boost, which introduces you to the FourSight Thinking Profile.

Our 3-hour workshop Your Innovative Team debriefs individuals on a team regarding their thinking preferences and navigates them through an exploration of how everyone’s thinking preferences are contributing to and challenging team performance.

Contact us to learn how you can develop creativity and innovation in your teams.

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